By Andrew Tully
Since the first reports of bloodshed in Andijon, the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has been slowly increasing its criticism of the government of Uzbek President Islam Karimov. Yesterday, the expression of concern rose significantly.
Washington, 10 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The United States yesterday made its strongest call yet for an independent international investigation of the 13 May killings in Andijon.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack was asked about a letter sent by six U.S. senators -- including four from Bush's Republican Party -- urging the administration to reconsider its relationship with Uzbekistan.
"Very basically we share the concerns of the senators," McCormack said. "We are calling for a credible, transparent, and independent investigation into the Andijon tragedy. We also stand ready to take part in such an investigation in cooperation with the Uzbek government and credible international partners."
The senators' letter -- addressed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- expressed concern about the United States entering into a long-term agreement for U.S. troops to occupy a military base in Uzbekistan. Karimov offered Washington use of the base shortly after the attacks of 11 September 2001.
Karimov has said 173 people, including government forces, were killed in Andijon on 13 May. Human Rights Watch issued a detailed report on the incident on 7 June that said hundreds were killed. The advocacy group called the confrontation a "massacre."
On 8 June, McCormack indicated that the Bush administration doesn't accept Karimov's account of the events. He said the United States believes that "hundreds of innocent civilians were killed" that day. He said this conclusion is based on what he called "reliable eyewitness accounts."
Yesterday, McCormack gave no indication of Washington's eventual response.
"We are considering all of our diplomatic options, including at the UN. We are pleased that representatives of the UN high commissioner on human rights will be returning to the refugee camp in Kyrgyz to assess the situation there. And in the meantime, we are talking to member states of various international organizations to try to generate support for an international investigation. We've been calling for this for some time."
Washington is joined by NATO and the EU in calling for an international investigation. But the Uzbek government has refused such a probe and is backed in its position by Moscow.
Yesterday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said during a visit to NATO officials in Brussels that the violence on 13 May in Andijon was orchestrated from Afghanistan, and that 50 non-Uzbeks were among those killed and detained by the Uzbek authorities.
"The situation in a number of regions in Asia and Middle East, where we can see an increase in radicalism and a further escalation of terrorism, is a cause of much concern. Indicative in this aspect are the recent events in Uzbekistan," Ivanov said. "According to the information we have, the events were inspired from the territory of Afghanistan."
Ivanov gave no further details for his claims, and no confirmation was available.
The Uzbek government says it is conducting its own investigation of the day's events.
But yesterday, McCormack indicated that the Bush administration has little faith in that probe.
"The Uzbek parliament started their own investigation," McCormack said. "That's something that we chose not to participate in because we didn't see that as a substitute for the international investigation that we talked about."
McCormack said the Bush administration is also worried about what it calls the Uzbek government's efforts to silence not only indigenous witnesses, but also news reporters and rights advocates who have been trying to learn more about the killings.
"We are concerned and remain concerned that the (Uzbek) government is trying to silence human rights activists and media [with] intimidation as well as arrests," McCormack said. "I think our views on freedom of speech are well known, so these are very troubling matters, very concerning for us."
The State Department has long been critical of Karimov's human rights record, but the Defense Department has found the use of the base valuable in carrying out its operations in neighboring Afghanistan.
Last year, the State Department cited this poor record when it suspended $18 million in aid to Uzbekistan. But soon the Pentagon restored that money -- and even added $3 million to the total -- citing Karimov's cooperation with the U.S. military.
- Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
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